I remember as a little girl watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoons. I wasn’t a sports fan, but I loved the intro to this program which featured sports footage accompanied by Jim McKay’s powerful and dramatic narration. “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport! The thrill of victory! And the agony of defeat…” Seconds before Jim McKay said “and the agony of defeat” there was a sudden blast of descending orchestral music with a visual of a 20–year-old ski jumper ferociously plummeting out of control off of a ski ramp into a crowd of spectators. I can imagine at that moment in time that ski jumper must have felt extreme defeat, embarrassment, and failure. It’s incredible to watch!
In our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we may have the best-laid plans in place, but still suffer loss and experience trials and disappointments that can lead to feelings of defeat that make us feel like our lives are tumbling out of control. While we experience difficulties, God is there in the midst of it all. He loves us and provides us with comfort. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV). Because of this, feelings of defeat should only be temporary and diminish over time as we draw closer to God for strength, peace, and deliverance during hard times. But we must not cease in our discipleship and spiritual growth. We must continue, with God’s strength, to press forward.
Nevertheless, our hearts still ask why does God allow suffering? After all, he has the power to stop all suffering instantly. The truth is, God never intended for us to suffer or feel defeated. Suffering began when sin entered into the world (Genesis 3:1–13) and the consequences of sin immediately followed (Genesis 3:16–19). There are also many things in life that occur that are beyond our control. We experience illness, loss of employment, loss of finances, loss of loved ones, and other things that make us feel defeated. Verses of scripture like Romans 8:28 and James 1:2 can be difficult passages to receive initially, but through continued spiritual growth and discipleship, we can learn how to lean on and trust God in all circumstances. God does not enjoy seeing anyone suffer pain, disappointments, or tragedy. But on the other hand, how can we truly experience the power of God, grow in our discipleship, and exercise our faith if we do not experience trials and difficulties? God uses difficulties to bring us closer to him, and we are blessed by his faithfulness, grace and deliverance. He even uses pain and tragedy to bring unbelievers to faith in Jesus Christ. Whatever we go through, God will give us the peace to endure if we stand on his promises and trust him. Isaiah 26:3–4 (ESV) says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”
The Apostle Paul suffered great affliction for the discipling of believers and advancement of the Gospel. In 2 Corinthians 1:3–11, Paul describes the severe hardships that he experienced in the province of Asia. In light of all that happened, he begins verse 3 by saying, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” Then in verses 4–7, Paul talks about how the suffering and difficulties of each Christian is a benefit to the entire body of Christ “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” There are many occasions when we can take our “misery” and use it as a “ministry” to help and disciple others who are struggling through similar circumstances. In addition, our suffering produces endurance and perseverance. In verses 9–10, Paul talks about how he relied on God and not himself while facing adversity. He also speaks of God’s deliverance from almost impending death and in verse 11 he mentions how the prayers of the believers were answered and helped in the advancement of the Gospel. Paul says that his confidence and hope are continuously in God’s deliverance. What a great example of reliance upon God despite strenuous circumstances! If Paul had failed to grow in his discipleship, his perspective would have been much different.
Now, getting back to the ski jumper mentioned at the beginning of this blog. His name is Vinko Bogataj and he’s from a central European country called Slovenia. I was surprised to find out that he only suffered a minor concussion from the traumatic spill he took off that ski ramp. Bogataj is alive and well, now in his 70’s and still living in Slovenia with his family. He never emerged as a great ski jumper and ultimately left competitive ski jumping altogether. Here’s what’s interesting: Bogataj was completely unaware that he had become somewhat of a minor celebrity in America until 1981 when he was contacted by ABC’s Wide World of Sports for their 20th-year anniversary celebration. He had absolutely no idea that the Wide World of Sports video footage of his failed ski jump was being viewed by millions of Americans every Saturday for years. When he arrived at the celebration, he was treated as if he was a gold medal-winning world champion. Everyone wanted to meet the man who survived that fearful ski jump. To top it off, Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest sports legends of all time asked him for his autograph. What a surreal moment for him! I imagine that he must have felt some sort of vindication of what he may have considered to be a huge failure from his past. I don’t know where Bogataj stands with the Lord, but his story definitely bears some resemblance to Christian themes about how all things work together for our good. When we disciple on in difficult times, we see God’s blessing on the other side of the pain and realize that growth has occurred and faith has increased.
In conclusion, whatever hardships, trials, or difficulties that we may experience, God is greater and uses these events to make us more dependent upon him. When we feel defeated, we can get back on track by living victoriously in Jesus, believing that he will comfort and help us. As we continue to grow spiritually, we come to understand that he is in control and greater than our circumstances. Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13). Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:9). We are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37)!